Archive for June, 2009

June 5th:

” In every battle there is a moment when the combatants, and the world, seem to catch their breath. It is a fleeting moment, lost in the blink of an eye. But in that same blink, everything changes. Such moments are borne of desperation, of courage, of plain dumb luck. But they are pivotal – for what was before is forever changed afterwards. Until 1019 on the morning of 4/5 June 1942, things had gone badly for the US and its allies. With few exceptions, the Allies were fighting a losing battle in the Pacific. Indeed, as events unfolded that morning, it appeared as of the rout was on. The attacks by land-based air forces from Midway had utterly failed culminating in the loss of many aircraft. The strikes by the torpedo aircraft were decimated – an entire squadron of TBDs shot down with only a sole survivor to claim witness. An entire airgroup missed the Japanese carriers and the battle altogether and of the remaining forces, they were scattered and disorganized. The future was looking grim. At 1019, Hiryu’s senior lookout shouted he had spotted dive bombers attacking Kaga from overhead. Despite being thrown into a hard turn, Kaga was struck by a 500 lb bomb and then successive strikes utterly crushed her…

At 1024 Soryu was struck a mighty series of blows…

At 1026, LT Dick Best led a flight of two other SBDs away from Kaga in an attack on Akagi. Attacking in a “V” formation from a right-hand turn, history held its breath as the first bomb missed and the third narrowly missed the carrier. But the second bomb, a 1,000 pounder from LT Best’s aircraft bore through the aft edge of the elevator and exploded in the upper reaches of the Akagi’s hangar bay, in the midst of the refueled/rearming aircraft parked there. In the blink of an eye, fate turned and three carriers lay burning.

To be sure the battle was not over and a dreadful price remained to be extracted from the American carriers. Likewise, Kido Butai had not seen the last of the Americans either and would pay the final price later in that day.

Across a seaborne canvass that stretched over 176,000 sq nm, larger than the country of Sweden, the battle see-sawed back and forth. No other naval engagement has seen such breath-taking distances involved and few, short of a Trafalgar, have seen such a decisive turn of events. We honor today those who fought and gave their all in this signatory battle.”

Across the expanses of the Pacific that now marked the final resting spot of four of the Combined Fleet’s carriers and another of the dwindling American fleet; across those waters whose perceived placidity formed the basis of its, by now, ironically given name, men on both sides gathered to ponder, to plan, to act. On one side, it was a two pronged effort to hide the shame of the recent losses from the divine being occupying the throne while still trying to consolidate the spoils of what, six months previously, seemed to be an unstoppable force. In the east, in the capitol of a nation roughly a century and a half removed from the shackles of an empire, men, civilian and military paused in their brief celebration of the previous day’s events and turned over a question common in mind – ‘now what’? The unexpected opportunity presented at Midway opened new avenues and forced thought about where emphasis should lie in the war effort. Europe first? That’s where the President’s heart lay and Churchill and Stalin were in desperate straits against the Nazi foe despite recent setbacks… Put the Pacific on ice now that Japan’s eastward and southern thrusts have been blunted? Or take advantage of the change in strategic conditions? Was it time to press Nimitz’s central Pacific strategy? And what about MacArthur ? Couldn’t keep him quiet in Australia forever.

In June 1942, a Japanese seaplane base commander was surveying the areas in a chain of volcanic- and coral-reef islands that stretched across the north-eastern approaches to Australia – the Solomon Islands. While loitering about one, he noticed a wide, flat plain – perfect for constructing a long runway for land-based patrol bombers to extend their reach over land and sea. And so, acting on his initiative, construction began on this heretofore, little noticed, overgrown outcropping of rock, stuck like an appendix to this chain of islands.

This rock named Guadalcanal.

In doing so, he touched off a series of events, of battles great and small, nation against nation, man against the elements – even man against himself that no one in those far-distant capitols had reckoned for.

Beginning here (and here) next week, we will bring you the story of the Solomons campaign. A cast of writers have been assembled from a variety of communities – some well known from their own blog efforts, some new to the blog ‘verse but well experienced in the ‘real world,’ others you have only seen in the comments. All will bring their knowledge and perspective to elements of the Campaign in the tradition established by the Countdown to Midway series. In the process, while hoping to shed new light on a campaign that, with a few exceptions, has pretty much remained elusively darkened to most except for the dedicated naval and military historian, we also hope to highlight lessons for the current age – lessons form an operational, planning and leadership perspective.

For what is the good in studying history if we may not find the practical application in the present and for our future?


James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara of the Jamestown Foundation conducted a recent analysis of Chinese naval goals that’s worth reading and considering in full. In short, China appears to have a resurgent interest in the work of Mahan, but Beijing is clearly still digesting the details and trying to square Mahan’s theories with their developing strategic goals. Here are the key conclusions:

An Asymmetric Yet Mahanian PLAN

Even if China does interpret Mahan in warlike fashion, it need not construct a navy symmetrical to the U.S. Navy to achieve its maritime goals, such as upholding territorial claims around the Chinese nautical periphery, commanding East Asian seas and skies, and safeguarding distant sea lines of communication. Beijing could accept Mahan’s general logic of naval strategy while seeking to command vital sea areas with weaponry and methods quite different from anything Mahan foresaw. If the much-discussed anti-ship ballistic missile pans out, for instance, the PLA could hold U.S. Navy carrier strike groups at a distance. Medium-sized Chinese aircraft carriers could operate freely behind that defensive shield, sparing the PLAN the technical and doctrinal headaches associated with constructing big-deck carriers comparable to the U.S. Navy’s Nimitz or Ford classes. Beijing would fulfill its Mahanian goal of local sea control at a modest cost—an eminently sensible approach, and one that Mahan would have applauded. Thus, Western observers should avoid projecting their own assumptions onto Chinese strategic thinkers.

Strategic theory, then, gives Westerners an instrument to track China’s maritime rise, complementing more traditional techniques of net assessment. If Chinese scholars and seafarers continue ignoring the cooperative strands of Mahanian thought, mistaking his writings for (or misrepresenting them as) bloody-minded advocacy of naval battle, Chinese strategy will incline toward naval competition and conflict. On the other hand, a China whose leadership fully grasps the logic governing Mahanian theory may prove less contentious.

I, like many current thinkers, am unconvinced that the United States and China must out of necessity become strategic adversaries. Indeed, given the ever-expanding economic interdependency between our two nations, an adversarial relationship would likely benefit neither. However, the ambiguity in the relationship and China’s strategic goals remain the key problems. And of course, U.S. naval planning and force structure will and must continue to consider the PLAN a potential threat to access until the ambiguity is resolved.

Tonight I listened to a presentation on the universe and the way of things by Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s own legendary space exploration project manager, Tony Spear. He discussed the Mars Pathfinder Mission. Einstein. Darwin. Newton. Curiosity. Gravity. Human consciousness. Systems engineering and String Theory. Literally the “ups and downs” of things. We listened, awe struck, to explanations of those far away cosmic lights we so often gaze, half drunk, half amazed. It was a magical evening – the rare sort where different people gathered from different backgrounds to meet a differential calculus that left us agreeing: oh my, how small we are. And how much the very same.

As a final question, one astute listener asked of the electrical engineer: Why does the science of man evolve so wonderfully, and the morality of man so malevolently? The audience paused. And listened. Tony reminded us we are humans, mere mortals, composed of DNA and matter and particles tied to a universe and a universe beyond our own universe and that perhaps our violent nature, though chemical and natural, could be overcome by altruism, education, and science. And, as a group I think, we breathed that wonderful sort of exhale we remembered breathing as young students some time ago who sat before the rare professor that affected us so deeply. And we paused, reflected, learned, and walked off, better.

After the talk, I had the chance to speak with Tony Spear. We discussed important things like robotics, good family, the future of warfighting, fine scotch and curvy women. His mind worked much faster than mine, so I emphasized the fine scotch, and poured him another. In between his captivating thoughts on mathematics and the cosmos, we discussed the human element of combat, the nature of man, and moral philosophy. A two-piece band spun Woody Herman’s “Four Brothers” from the outside patio. And the universe around us chaotically expanded and violently contracted while we drank, and laughed and learned. And my mind went to where it always goes when Jameson grabs a hold of my heart…the Marine Corps.

As the band played, and the cocktails flowed, I related to Tony what I felt where the limitations of technology on the modern day battlefield. A complex computer system can hover at 15,000 feet and capture images of men and donkeys crossing the Syrian border into Iraq near the Sinjar Mountains…but only a trained sergeant behind a long scope in an uncomfortable hide site can observe those same men and report the human element. That they have sweat coming from their brow, not a physical sweat, but a nervous sweat. That their movements are erratic, unnatural, and anxious. The computer in the rover at 15,000 feet has told the commander that two men are crossing the border at 2 in the morning. The sergeant in the hide site has told that same commander that two men have crossed the border, and are “suspicious”…they’re marked…15 minutes later a CAAT team intercepts those men 4 miles outside of Sinjar City. They’re carrying weapons, maps, and Al Qaeda propaganda. The limits of science, for now anyway, are apparent: it takes a human process to identify a human process.

And so I think this much is true: one day we might just have an algorithm that will train a computer system to think like a fighter pilot, or a ship’s navigator…but until that day comes, we need the well-trained human fighter pilot in the dog fight, the human ship’s navigator in the sea’s violent storm…because combat, on land and sea, is a complex sequence of human emotions and human processes, the likes of which no super-computer can negotiate. And this is a part of the complex physics of warfare.

Second Lieutenants are taught these physics – the science, art and dynamic of war – deep in the hills of Quantico, Virginia: how to accomplish my mission, and survive. The Greeks called the method to accomplishing a goal techne, literally craftsmanship. The Marines call it knowing your stuff. Whatever you call it, this is how they distinguish themselves from the Army’s infantry schools: adherence to a flexible doctrine of speed and violence centered on Maneuver, not attrition.

The Infantry Officer Course is the world’s foremost graduate school of this form of combat: Maneuver Warfare. Headquartered in an unornamented brick building, discretely located beyond the larger halls of the Basic Officer Course, most basic students pass by the hall with a quiet reverence for the training that takes place here. The walls are made of concrete blocks, painted hospital white and filled with pictures of past graduates, heroes, reminding students of those who came before them. Quite literally the God’s and Generals of the infantry. Leave your Oprah culture sensitivities, self-help literature and coffee cups whose lids warn its contents are “hot” at the door – this is the church of violence.

Before students enter the hall for their indoctrination brief they pass a very appropriate adage written in ominous black script: Those are best who survive the severest of schools. In that hall, and in the forests beyond, the handpicked warrior cadre bring a human dimension to Thucydides’ meditation, and dedicate more than three months to imbue them with three simple tenets and instill in them an overarching warrior ethos: Shoot. Move. Communicate. All the rest is taking care of your Marines.

All the rest, students learn, is a matter of internalizing a violently seductive and explicitly necessary warrior ethos, an Elegant violence, while maintaining a moral commitment to mutually competing events, and emotions.

The Marine Corps infantry is tribal. It has to be. Tempering the violence, while maintaining aggressiveness means the junior commander must be grounded by an unteachable moral commitment that is exhausting, unrelenting, and absolutely imperative to his tribe. This is elegant violence. Between firing machine guns, guiding fire from close air support and hiking miles with a hundred pounds of gear in exhausting terrain, conversations among students turn to just this, the conversations of “all the rest.” All these things, and a million things in between, are what students learn at the graduate school of combat leadership. Nothing you’d ever see on Oprah, but that you always wish you would…here students become their own self-help mechanism. And there is something very pure about all this, conversations held behind camouflaged faces stuffed with Copenhagen in dirty utilities, starving, half way through the most tiring event of their life. This is the sort of informal curriculum offered by the graduate school of combat leadership.

But “all of rest” is only able to take place because of the school’s foundation of formal instruction. It is their common language, such a thing is a requirement for all professionals. The students at IOC quickly realize that every religion has a church, every church a tribe, every tribe a holy book – the religion was America, no one doubted that, but the church was violence, the tribe, the infantry, the scripture, maneuver, and their sacred trust was to the men whom they would soon serve. In an age when one so easily suffocates among the inane, the hyper-sensitive, the pessimistic, the cynical-self-loathing and weak-spirited critics, worshiping such things breathes life and adventure into their restless hearts.

This holy book, the professional literature behind the infantry skills and warrior tribalism taught at IOC, is Marine Corps Doctrine Publication 1, Warfighting. It teaches Maneuver, the lifeblood of the naval infantry: How friction, uncertainty, danger, fatigue, fear, complexity, disorder and violence can be overcome by fluidity, boldness, communication, initiative, responsiveness, creativity, and strong will. The application of our strength, it reads, against a selected enemy’s weakness in order to maximize advantage – this is the aim. To this end the maneuverist requires both speed and surprise.

MCDP-1 is very clear about this. The only problem is that in today’s counter-insurgency fight we require more than a science – more than even an art and a dynamic. We require more than “speed” in operation and more than “surprise” in the attack. The junior commander on today’s battlefield requires an understanding of physics. Fusion of art, science and dynamic is just this sort of physics and this is what is required – a complete incorporation of the principles of high energy physics: a theory of everything.

OIF I was a fantastic example of the art, science and dynamic of war unfolding to completion – and victoriously. Even OIF II, highlighted by sustained kinetic fights on the streets of Fallujah and the cemeteries of Najaf, carries a more conventional legacy. Counter-insurgency however, which has defined OIF III, and OIF IV, is less about killing the enemy, and more about, as historian Max Boot has said, identifying the enemy. The tactical complexities that the Marines of the Anbar daily find themselves in is one that transforms from ‘potential energy’ to fully kinetic to potential and back again within seconds. This situation requires more than artful leadership, scientific execution and dynamic planning by platoon commanders. This counter insurgency fight requires combat physicists who maintain the legacy of the artists and scientists of wars past who taught, rightfully so, that the 2-dimensional battlefield was now a 3-dimensional battlespace but who also implement and improve on tactics that reflect an appreciation for the contemporary counter insurgency paradigm, one that requires a 4-dimensional approach. Simply put, high energy physics is the new techne.

The “high energy physics” approach to battle would amend MCDP-1 to reflect such changes…because it not only applies to the counter-insurgency fight, but also to more conventional situations. The amendments, best highlighted in terms of the Six Warfighting Functions (Maneuver, Intelligence, Logistics, Command and Control, Fires, and Force Protection), would include the use of some real world physics: the theory of time/space, the use of mathematical models to reconstruct and predict the enemy’s planning cycle, and the application of velocity in combat, to name a few.

Take maneuver. As taught we fight in a left/right, up/down, front/back battlespace. Three dimensions. The reality is that we fight in a 4D battlespace. This is the understanding that the 3-D world unfolds within the framework of TIME. It is not enough to think about the enemy in a 3-D context, as we do, we have to arrive at our assumptions of his movement and his will in terms of the expiration of current time and the value he assigns to soon-to-come time. The counter-insurgency fight is a struggle against this time…the enemy’s time must become your time. Now you have the initiative. Each patrol, each checkpoint, each raid is more so a factor of the enemy’s own planning cycle, his own appreciation and measure of time. The science of war as applied from MCDP-1 teaches us a 3-D approach to warfare, the physics of warfare teaches a 4-D approach that is vital to success of small unit operations in theatre.

And intelligence? Intel literally drives the small unit leader’s operations in the world of counter-insurgency. MCDP-1 does not disagree, but teaches the value of intelligence is in our planning, incorporated to build OUR greater tactical and operational picture. A “high energy physics” approach favors intelligence that takes real form, as a scientific model or a tactical barometer or a re-usable equation – a mechanism used to predict the not-so unpredictable decision making cycles and planning processes of the enemy, thereby building THEIR greater tactical and operational picture for us by reconstructing the enemy’s intent allowing us to construct our plan accordingly. A “high energy physics” approach then, favors the design of an algorithm which puts us at the center of their planning meetings, not our own, which are usually really long and kind of boring anyway.

As for ‘command and control’, MCDP-1 preaches the importance of speed. Speed is certainly an essential element of warfighting and in a more kinetic, conventional fight, perhaps speed is decisive. But in a counter-insurgency fight speed can be dangerous. Speed here requires direction. Speed with direction is velocity. “Combat Velocity” is the speed of your decision making cycle, or the speed of your maneuver, or the speed of an infinitesimal amount of factors unfolding at an unprocessable rate layered by the direction of your order, or the direction of your squad’s position, or the direction you give the uncontrollable factor of time that is threatening to consume your initiative, and your 3-dimensional posture in an intolerant 4-dimensional moment in TIME. Combat velocity recognizes that counter-insurgency fast becomes the ‘combat infinity’ and can only be leveraged to a position of advantage if the speed of the environment and the speed of your decision making cycle is given an appropriate direction. Speed is no longer enough. Despite the chaos of the combat infinity, the small unit commander can affect any situation by bringing a degree of order in the form of combat velocity: facilitating speed and giving direction.

And of course there are “fires” – which are now kinetic (indirect or air support) and non-kinetic (psychological operations, media, etc) but all still a matter a physics: force (or desired effects) still equals mass X acceleration. Think about it. In a kinetic and non-kinetic world, “high energy physics” is changing how we should be interpreting the teachings of our holy book. Even the “logistics” warfighting function requires a look from a physics perspective…if you’ve ever tried to get a supply clerk to move quickly or watched a request chit meander up and around the chain of command, you’re familiar with a very Newtonian reality: an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an external force, usually this looks a lot like the boot of a motivated staff non-commissioned officer on the behind of a not-so-motivated lance corporal.

A “high energy physics” approach to Maneuver Warfare is, ultimately, a fusion of the art, science, and dynamic of maneuver warfare beyond the kinetic and conventional world of small unit operation taught in MCDP-1. Since the Marine Corps is fundamentally an organization of mutually supporting small units with a rich history in unconventional small wars, it is time to amend our holy book – if such a thing can be done – to reflect what physics has always been telling us all along…that time is everything, that speed is nothing without direction, and that while we will never be able to define ‘infinity’ we can approach an understanding of it…oh yeah, and that the answers to all of these questions will never be found on Oprah, in a self-help book, or in an aimless and drunk harangue from a grumpy and cynical undergraduate, but rather in those conversations of “all the rest” in the infantry officer’s Church of Violence and soon empirically, in those faraway and unforgiving streets where the only peace was yesterday.

And I think men of science like Tony Spear would relate well to this view of things…that the world we know is ever-changing, and dynamic, and violent and requires men who stand before such change and demand missions to mars and close air support. Because at the end of the day such things as Einstein, Darwin, Nimitz, Halsey, Newton, Curiosity, Gravity, Courage, Human consciousness, Systems engineering, a fine Fleet, String Theory and Maneuver Warfare share one thing in common to both physicist and warrior…they are quite literally the “ups and downs” of things, and deserve a moment’s thought and well-deserved exhale. And while even Tony Spear could not answer why we evolve so wonderfully in our science and so slowly in our morality, he certainly affirmed the importance of the education of both scientist and warrior. And the physics we share.

(which might also serve as a cautionary tale to those who decry ‘future warists’ – SJS)
…Investments in blood and treasure:

Jan. 1927: 8 officers and 81 enlisted men of VO-1M, led by Maj. Ross Rowell, arrived at Corinto, Nicaragua with six DH’s. Amidst the anarchy of the civil and banditry, the U.S. Marines held the railroad. In July the Sandinista rebels (the original ones) besieged 37 Marines at the Ocotal garrison, 125 miles from Manaagua. Patrolling Marine pilots, Lt. Hayne Boyden and Gunner Micahel Wodarczyk, discovered the defenders’ plight. After they reported this to Maj. Rowell, he led five DH’s to bomb the rebels. From 1,500 feet, they conducted one of the first dive bombing missions, killing dozens of Sandinistas. Rowell and his fliers flew 50 missions against the Nicaraguan guerrillas.

27 June 1927: Dive bombing came under official study as the Chief of Naval Operations ordered the Commander in Chief, Battle Fleet, to conduct tests to evaluate its effectiveness against moving targets. Carried out by VF Squadron 5S in late summer and early fall, the results of these tests generated wide discussion of the need for special aircraft and units, which led directly to the development of equipment and adoption of the tactic as a standard method of attack.

Read the rest of this entry »

59 years ago this very day, the Korean War a.k.a. “The Forgotten War” started. If it is even possible, the Coast Guard’s role in the Korean War would be even more forgotten if it were not for the CG Historian’s office.

Scott Price’s piece entitled “The Forgotten Service in the Forgotten War
does an outstanding job in detailing the many CG operations during the Korean War.

It is well worth your time to read. Full of lessons learned for today’s Coast Guard.

A job well done to Korean War veterans from all service branches!

Does anyone know of any books about the CG’s role in the Korean War?

Coast Guard Veterans of the Korean War, I want to hear from you. Please feel free to drop me a line at jimdolbow @ gmail dot com. Thank you!

It was 59 years ago today that North Korea invaded South Korea so it is only fitting that I e-interview Dr. Edward J. Marolda about the U.S. Navy’s role in the Korean War.

What inspired you to first produce booklets commemorating the Korean War and then later compiling them into The U.S. Navy and the Korean War?

One of my primary objectives during my time at Naval Historical Center (now Naval History and Heritage Command) was to stimulate interest in the vital history of the U.S. Navy in the Cold War era. As head of the Contemporary History Branch and then as Senior Historian, I sought to generate works on this period. We began and completed multi-page books on the USN in the Cold War but I anticipated a need for shorter studies during the 50th anniversary of the Korean War from 2000-2003. With the funding assistance of the DOD Korean War Commemoration Committee and the Naval Historical Foundation, we enlisted authors for the booklets and when produced distributed them to numerous commemoration groups and naval activities nationwide. To reach another key audience (the members of the Naval Institute) I then partnered with the USNI and the NHF to produce the book, which I am pleased to say has generated lots of positive comment.

Who were your contributors on this important project?

In addition to the organizations mentioned above, the most important contributors to the project were the individual authors, some of the finest naval historians around, including the late Tom Buell, Joe Alexander, Dick Knott, Tom Cutler, Curtis Utz, Bernie Nalty, and Malcomb (Kip) Muir.

What was the Navy’s role in the Korean War?

Withouth the USN, the UN coalition would not have been able to fight in Korea. Within a few weeks of the North Korean invasion, US, UK, and ROK naval units were driving North Korean naval forces from the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan; sea control was never in question after that. The Navy’s Military Sea Transportation Service rushed troop reinforcements into South Korea that prevented loss of the peninsula. At the same time carrier-based Navy, Marine, and British aviation forces bombed the North Korean capital at Pyongyang, bombarded the enemy’s supply lines leading to Pusan, and provided UN ground forces with close air support. In addition to the masterful amphibious assault at Inchon which changed the power equation in mid-1950, the threat of other amphibious operations throughout the war compelled Mao and Kim to keep powerful forces away from the front line at the 38th parallel. Naval air both shore and carrier-based was critical to the 1st Marine Division’s successful fight to the sea from Chosin Reservoir (in the process badly beating up several PLA armies). Moreover, the fleet successfully withdrew 91,000 troops and their equipment (and 100,000 refugees) from Hungnam to South Korea and they were soon in the fight again. Naval bombardmente from BBs and other combatants denied the enemy free use of his own coastlines.

How did maritime power keep the first “limited war” of the Cold War era confined to Korea?

With the “neutralization” of the Straits of Taiwan by the Seventh Fleet at the outset of the war and carrier task force sweeps along the China coast throughout the war, Washington made it clear to Bejing that any attempt to widen the war beyong Korea would put China’s coastal cities and industries at great risk. The Soviets were equally concerned about the vulnerability of their remote Far Eastern holdings.

What projects are you working on now?

A few years ago (while I worked at the NHC) in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War (one could pick several dates for that, but I chose 1965) in 2015, I inaugurated a new commemorative booklet series. With invaluable assistance of the Naval Historical Foundation, I enlisted distinguished authors to write individual booklets on the following topics: coastal operations, riverine operations, Operation Rolling Thunder, Operation Linebacker, POWs, naval leaders of the Vietnam War, sealift and logistic support, intelligence, Seabees and naval construction, and special operations. As a consultant to the NHHC, I am continuing work on the project as coeditor with Sandra Doyle, the NHHC’s Publications Editor. We hope to have 14 booklets completed by 2015. Soon the first two booklets in the series will be published; The Approaching Storm: Conflict in Asia, 1945-1965 (Marolda) and Nixon’s Trident: Naval Operations in Vietnam, 1968-1973 (John Sherwood).

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I continue to believe there is much more we all can do to preserve and interpret the Navy’s vital contribution to the nation’s success in the the Cold War. In addition to the Vietnam booklet series, the NHHC and the NHF are embarked on a major project, completing a Cold War Gallery to the National Museum of the United States Navy at the Washington Navy Yard.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books | 2 Comments
photo by Sagar Pathak/

photo by Sagar Pathak/

In a USNI Blog exclusive, I recently had the opportunity to e-interview Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, USAF, Commander, Twelfth Air Force (Air Forces Southern) about Operation Southern Partner. General Seip is one of this nation’s leading authorities on the military’s role in soft power. Early readers of this blog will recall I e-interviewed Gen. Seip earlier this year here, here, and here.

How do you measure the success of missions like Operation Southern Partner?

I believe the success of Operation Southern Partner isn’t measured by our team here at Air Forces Southern – it’s measured by partner nation military and law enforcement participants. The feedback we’ve received from the nations participating in OSP exchanges has been overwhelmingly positive. The tactics, techniques, procedures and ideas exchanged during OSP have an immediate and long-lasting impact on participants. For example, the life saving skills learned during a first responder or disaster response exchange are concepts participants can use in any number of emergencies in their personal and professional lives; anything from a car accident to the aftermath of a major hurricane.

The Air Chiefs and leaders I meet in the region often comment on the impact of these peer-to-peer exchanges -our Airmen, officers and enlisted, are role models, professionals and experts in their field, so the information and experience they bring with them to missions such as OSP is invaluable in preparing the next generation of officers and non-commissioned leaders within Latin America and the Caribbean.

OSP is the chance for Airmen to have a positive influence on those future leaders by empowering them with technical knowledge while building their professional network. It’s important to understand that these exchanges don’t end when Airmen return to their bases. The relationships continue; an aircraft maintainer might email the sergeant he worked with during OSP for advice in the future….the initial exchanges are only the beginning of long-term partnerships between Airmen and their counterparts.

OSP participants are excited to continue working with our Airmen. Partner nations are the ones who let me know if our programs are worthwhile – and they can’t wait to begin the next OSP, cooperation team event or exchange. To me, that’s success.

What are some of the lessons learned from Operation Southern Partner?

The most important lesson Operation Southern Partner has taught our planners is what particular skills are in demand by partner nations. Each of the exchanges is focused on an area of expertise identified by the partner nation during the planning process. We’re ensuring the agenda is set by participating nations – not by planners thousands of miles away.

Other lessons we’ve learned from OSP are the many challenges of deploying Airmen to the U.S. Southern Command area of focus. OSP is a great opportunity for our various staff offices to execute their processes and procedures; departments ranging from personnel, aircraft schedulers and contracting, to operations and cargo handlers, as well as, command and control functions. When an emergency does arise, our team is better able to respond across the region because we’ve practiced these functions during OSP. Most importantly, the relationships built between participants during their exchanges help to prepare us to work together during future contingency operations.


Staff Sgt. Kyle Liker, from the 820th Security Forces Group, Moody Air Force Base, GA, assists Royal Grenada Police Force members as they prepare to search a compound containing simulated enemy forces during Operation Southern Partner. (12th USAF Photo)

What would you say to the naysayers that question the value of cooperative exchange missions like OSP?

The proof of this formula is in the response Airmen receive during and after OSP. Southern Partner is a great event-but it’s only the beginning of our involvement with partner nations. Afterwards, Airmen are able to address issues brought up during their exchanges with other engagement programs such Cooperation Teams and mobile training events.

As I said before, OSP is the beginning of a relationship between professionals of the same career field. Participants are able to build their network and reach back to the people they’ve worked with for tips and guidance. Participants are better maintainers, doctors, logisticians or safety officers when they can tap into the combined knowledge of their peers. That’s the value of OSP – as partner nation Airmen use the knowledge and professional network they’ve developed to progress and become the next generation of First Sergeants, Commanders and leaders.

I firmly believe OSP exchanges will save lives. The real value of OSP will be demonstrated during the next crisis (such as a hurricane or earthquake) when a participating nation is able to respond in a more effective manner while working closely with U.S. military first responders. The skills participants developed during OSP will help these nations to assist their citizens; and the relationships OSP fostered will lead to a more cooperative effort between our militaries.

When is the next Operation Southern Partner?

While we don’t have a firm date at this point, we’re looking to conduct the next Operation Southern Partner late this year or early 2010. The region we’ll focus on for the third iteration will be partner nations in Central America.

Jim, sincerely hope you (and your readers) will join us for the next Operation Southern Partner!


Many thanks to General Seip for his outstanding responses and to Captain Nathan Broshear, 12th Air Force Public Affairs, for making this e-interview happen.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | No Comments

Looking for something fun to do this Saturday? American Girl Day this Saturday at the U.S. Navy Museum is history with a purpose that combines family fun with naval history.

Rear Admiral Jay DeLoach (USN-Ret) Director of Naval History, says American Girl Day is a “great event for daughters, nieces, friends, and family.”

Meanwhile Laura Hockensmith, Deputy Director of Education and Public Programs at the U.S. Navy Museum, says “Liz, Karin and I are extremely proud to host American Girl Day at the U.S. Navy Museum. As both fans of the book series, and American Naval history, we are excited to link them together for the public. By creating this day dedicated to young ladies, we are encouraging the non-traditional military history audience, a new a generation of young women, to explore American history and spark a life time love of museums.

Hope to see you there! Details include:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

11:00am – 3:00pm:
U.S. Navy Museum
805 Kidder Breese Street, SE
Washington, DC

Meet Valerie Tripp, author of many American Girl series! (booksigning from 11-1)

Enter to win a Molly McIntire Doll!

Prizes for those who dress like their favorite character!

Dolls are encouraged to come join in the fun!

Hands-on activities highlighting the era of:

Felicity Merriman
Addy Walker
Samantha Parkington
Kit Kittredge
Molly McIntire

RSVPs are requested to ensure enough materials for all participants. Please call (202) 433-6826 or (202) 433-0280.

For Washington Navy Yard directions & Base access information:

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Books, History | No Comments

“Gentlemen, of the 313-ship fleet — we’re really just giving lip service to that, aren’t we. I mean, there’s been no proposal to achieve a rate that would get us there. As a matter of fact, it seems that we’re actually falling away from that based on the rate of ships being decommissioned outpacing the rate of production.”

– Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MISS), Senate Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee, June 16, 2009

In the same hearing (video here), Vice Adm. Barry McCullough made the following statement in specific reference to the number of ships in the fleet.

“While the Navy can always be present persistently in areas of our choosing, we lack the capacity to be persistently present globally. This creates a presence deficit, if you will, where we are unable to meet combatant commander demands.”

Sean Stackley also stated in that hearing the Navy would need at least a 10-ship per year build rate to reach the 313-ship fleet benchmark in the 2020 time frame. Unfortunately, the Navy is only buying 8 ships in FY2010, meaning the Navy will need to buy 102 ships between FY 2011 and FY 2020 to reach the 313-ship mark. The timing couldn’t be more challenging for the Navy. For a look into the planning challenge, the FY 2010 Navy SCN budget is $12B; with $3.4B in RCOHs, EROs, and NDSF, for a combined $15.4B annually.

Current plans call for the Virginia class submarine procurement alone to consume an estimated 33%, $4 billion SCN annually, of the Navy SCN budget for the next decade. Additionally, with a recent CBO estimated cost to be around $10 billion for new CVNs, which are built and paid for over a period of 5 years, an additional estimated $2B will be spent on aircraft carriers over the same period of time. That means that $6B, or half, of the SCN budget from FY11-FY20 will be used to procure 20 submarines and 2 aircraft carriers; only 22 ships of the 102 needed to reach the 313-ship threshold. Where will the other 80 ships come from, and what will they look like?

Presumably, 48 of the ships will be the Littoral Combat Ship at an estimated $460M each, or a total cost just over $23.1B SCN of the remaining $60B for the decade. Also presumably, the Navy will buy 1 LPD-17 (FY11), 2 JCC(R), 2 LHA(R), and 1 LHD(X) over the next decade at minimum, which combined will cost around $1.7B, $2B, $3.5B and $3.5B each respectively, or $16.2B SCN total. That would give the Navy 53 of the 80 ships with $20.7B SCN to spend the remainder of the decade.

Over a ten year period, based on FY 2010 budget numbers the Navy would have $34B to spend on RCOHs, EROs, and NDSF. The question though is how far that goes, and how many hulls can the Navy afford. In previous planning documents, the Navy had indicated over that period 13 JHSVs, 3 Maritime Prepositioning Ship-Cargo variants, 3 Maritime Prepositioning Ship-Dock variants (also known as the MLP), 1 T-AGOS(X), 3 T-AO(X), 1 T-ARS(X), and 1 T-ATF(X) would be built. Is this affordable? It is unclear, RCOHs are expensive, but if it could be achieved the Navy would get an additional 25 ships.

Between the SCN totals described above for 20 submarines, 2 CVNs, 53 other SCN purchased ships, and the 25 support ships, that would give the Navy 100 of the 102 ships necessary to meet the 313-ship fleet, with a total of $20.7 billion to spare. Unfortunately, the list above contains purchases for zero major surface combatants. While it is true the Navy will not retire a single cruiser or destroyer during that entire time frame, at best a strategy for building DDG-51s which run at a cost of around $2B each will allow for only 10 destroyers to be purchased with the remaining $20.7B SCN. That would mean no CG(X) replacements, and obviously will not provide enough work to sustain the shipbuilding industry.

The point of this exercise is to highlight 4 points that can be drawn from the data.

1) The Navy is not in a terrible position to reach 313-ships by FY 2020, even as the challenges are obvious. The Navy is in a very terrible position towards sustaining 313-ships beyond 2025 due to the rapid retirement of surface combatants beginning in 2025. Replacing surface combatants beginning in that time frame will be very difficult, because at the same time the Navy will also need to replace retiring platforms including amphibious ships, logistics ships, and ballistic missile submarines. Unless amphibious ships or logistics ships are replaced over the next decade, the rate of retiring surface combatants beginning in FY 2025 will greatly outpace capacity to replace those large, expensive hulls.

2) A SLEP Program for the FFG is not a solution, as a FFG SLEP program would consume funding for new ships to get the fleet to FY 2025. In playing with the various possible options, I have been unable to outline any conherent plan where a FFG SLEP wouldn’t compound the surface combatant numerical challenges that begin in 2025. I don’t believe any legitimate argument exists for a SLEP FFG program towards addressing the Navy’s surface combatant numerical challenges.

3) The Littoral Combat Ship represents $23.1B of the available $60B for SCN spending options and alternatives over the next decade. The LCS accounts for around 38.5% of the available SCN funding. It is legitimate to question whether this platform represents a cost effective investment for the capabilities delivered and expected over a 30 year hull life. Obviously unmanned technology is the future, and modularity is a critical technology for the future Navy, but the Littoral Combat Ship is a relatively small platform for modular payloads, and it is still unclear how big the Navy may desire unmanned technologies to be for combat operations over the next 30 years. It is also very debatable whether the Littoral Combat Ship is well designed for combat in the littorals, considering the LCS was designed with the survivability rating of a logistics ship. The Navy has not determined yet how much flexibility the LCS brings to the fleet. Is the LCS too big for littorals? Is the LCS too small to be an effective unmanned mothership? Does the LCS have enough crew to effectively support manpower intensive operations like fighting piracy? Does the LCS have enough endurance to meet combatant commander requirements? What if the LCS turns out to be only part of the solution to the many requirements this ship is touted to meet? The LCS is more of a question today than it is an answer, but the Navy touts the platform as if the reverse was true.

4) Vice Adm. Barry McCullough stated in testimony the places where this “presence deficit” is identified includes “with new partners in Africa, the Black Sea, the Baltic region, and the Indian Ocean.” McCullough also went on to say “Africa Command capacity demands will not mitigate the growing European Command requirement” and “Southern Command capacity has consistently required more presence that largely goes unfilled.” All of these places suggest the “presence deficit” is specific to presence of the surface combatant force, but most of those places suggest the “presence deficit” is not in regards to high end combat capabilities, but the necessity to engage in littoral places and ungoverned spaces where local Coast Guards are largely incapable of meeting the regional maritime security requirements.

In my opinion, all signs suggest the Navy needs to substancially increase the quantity of surface ships to meet emerging trends and forward commander requirements, but it appears fiscally impossible to do so when the only two surface vessel options includes only two options, the $460M LCS and $2B DDG-51. Of all the discussions to be had in the QDR process, not to mention when taking the long view of the future and accounting for the history of naval construction since the end of the cold war, surface warfare is in dire need of new fleet ideas, new logistics models for sustaining forward presence, and new technologies to meet the challenges of emerging trends in naval combat. With each competing fleet model proposed, tested, and evaluated as part of the QDR process, the Navy would be very wise to study all of these ideas carefully and find the best ideas in surface warfare that can be applied to building a larger, more cost effecient 21st century fleet that contains the kind of capabilities the trends suggest will be in demand in the future.

Posted by galrahn in Navy | 196 Comments

Volunteer Force

June 2009


The Coast Guard Auxiliary celebrates 70th anniversary:

“The Coast Guard Auxiliary is the finest all-volunteer organization in our nation,” said Adm. Thad Allen, Commandant of the Coast Guard. “It is an integral part of our Coast Guard. We simply could not meet the challenges we face or conduct the missions we do on a day-to-day basis without their selfless devotion to duty.”For the past decade, Coast Guard Auxiliary efforts have accounted for more than 3,100 lives saved, assistance to more than 91,000 boaters in distress, the prevention of the loss of more than $437 million in property and the education of more than 1.6 million boaters through boating safety courses, in addition to the many other services the Auxiliary provides. Coast Guard Auxiliarists accomplished these feats by volunteering more than 36 million hours of their time.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary was founded June 23, 1939, when Congress authorized legislation that established a volunteer civilian component of the Coast Guard to promote boating safety and to facilitate operations of the Coast Guard. Auxiliary members initially conducted safety and security patrols and helped enforce provisions of the 1940 Federal Boating and Espionage Acts. In 1996, the Auxiliary’s role was expanded to allow members to assist in any Coast Guard mission, with the exceptions of law enforcement and military operations.

An earlier salute to the CG Aux at Sunday Ship History: The Coast Guard Auxiliary .

You can join, too, by visiting here:

Applicants must be U.S. citizens, at least 17 years old, and pass a basic background check. There are no upper age limits or height/weight standards, although for operational activities, you must be physically able to perform certain tasks. There are no minimum service hours – you can serve as little or as much as you want.

You do not have to own a boat or participate in water-based operations to join the Auxiliary.

Your neighbors. Your friends. All volunteers.

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